On the fourth floor of the 115-year-old Washington Shoe Building in Pioneer Square, Mike's Hard Lemonade is gearing up for expansion. Construction workers are adding...

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On the fourth floor of the 115-year-old Washington Shoe Building in Pioneer Square, Mike’s Hard Lemonade is gearing up for expansion.

Construction workers are adding space to Mike’s headquarters for a dozen upcoming hires, including the firm’s first president.

Since Mike’s debuted its spiked lemonade in a bottle in Boston on April Fool’s Day 1999, the company has been guided mostly by its Vancouver, B.C.-based founder and owner, Anthony von Mandl.

Now he needs help, says Tim Howley, chief financial officer for Mike’s parent company, which also owns Mission Hill Winery in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, and a beer and wine distributor in Canada.

“It’s that stage of the company’s life,” Howley said. “We’re not an infant, but we’re not at full adulthood, either. We’re in the later stages of corporate adolescence.”

Like any jumpy teenager, Mike’s has had trouble settling down. Although the beverage debuted in Boston, Mike’s headquarters was first in San Francisco, then Denver, and two years ago moved to Seattle.

Volume has been uneven, too.

Mike’s sold 11.4 million cases in 2003, roughly the same amount it expects to sell this year.

Volume dipped to a little over 10 million cases in 2004, mostly because of new competition.

“Everybody and their uncle got into it [flavored malt beverages], from Stoli to Skyy to Jack Daniels,” said Kevin McLaughlin, Mike’s head of marketing.

But Mike’s held on, adding flavors from iced tea to crisp apple and capturing 32 percent of the U.S. flavored malt beverages sold in grocery stores, according to the market-research firm Information Resources.

Together, Smirnoff Ice and Smirnoff Twisted V have more market share, but it is dwindling, while Mike’s gained 3.6 market-share points through the grocery channel for the year ended Jan. 28.

In Canada, Mike’s spikes its drinks with vodka. But in the U.S., because of tax and distribution issues, it uses a malt base that tastes clean enough to stay out of the way of other flavors in the company’s margarita-flavored “Mike-arita.”

Last year, it added a lower-calorie hard lemonade and next month plans to launch light cranberry lemonade.

Mike’s partners with other companies that bottle its beverages in Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

It has about 120 workers nationwide, including roughly 90 salespeople who work with distributors and large retailers. In Seattle, it has 31 employees.

About 55 percent of Mike’s customers are women, but because men drink more, about half of its volume goes into men’s bellies, McLaughlin said.

He sees the drinks for times “when you’re not hitting the spirits yet, wine is too serious and frankly beer is too boring.”

— Melissa Allison


In environmental retail news , upscale retailer Nordstrom said Wednesday it would begin using recycled paper for all its catalogs and annual reports. The company also plans to start buying paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Since 2004, Nordstrom has reduced by 70 percent the number of monthly catalogs it mails to customers, opting to produce a single edition for stores and direct sales. — MSO

A chocolate shop specializing in candy from local chocolatiers plans to open in early May near the corner of Pine Street and First Avenue downtown. The Chocolate Box will feature goodies from Fran’s Chocolates, Dilettante, Theo Chocolate, Fiori Chocolatiers and Oh! Chocolates. There will also be Washington wines, coffee and teas from Zoka Coffee Roaster & Tea, and local pastries that can be eaten in the store or on a patio outside when the weather is nice. — MA

Handmade-cosmetics retailer LUSH plans to hold a grand opening for its Westlake Center store 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The company has concealed $100 gift cards in a few of its popular bath bombs. The catch? You’ll have to drop it in a tub of water to see if you’ve won. — MSO

Guinness Brewmaster Fergal Murray visited Seattle on Thursday as part of his annual U.S. tour as we prepare for that most American of Irish holidays: St. Patrick’s Day. He visited several Irish pubs, talking to customers and showing bartenders how to pour a proper Guinness pint: Hold the specially shaped glass at a 45-degree angle before pouring, allow the nitrogen bubbles to create the theater, then tip the glass straight to slowly create a domed head. — MA

A documentary about Winter, the guy with one name who visits every Starbucks everywhere, will be released April 24 on DVD. You can pre-order “Starbucking” at Amazon.com for $17.99. The movie never had wide distribution but has played at several film festivals. Meanwhile, anyone who drops into a Starbucks in the U.S. and Canada between 10 a.m. and noon next Thursday can receive a free brewed coffee as part of its annual “Coffee Break.” — MA

Clinton Kelly , who co-hosts TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” plans to host a style workshop and fashion show for women sizes 14W and up at 1 p.m. March 24 at Macy’s downtown Seattle store. Kelly is billed as helping countless women build their “style esteem.” How confident of him. — MSO

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Monica Soto Ouchi covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com.